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5 key takeaways from an incredibly weird Suns-Lakers game

Lakers Suns, Anthony Davis, Dwight Howard

The Los Angeles Lakers have a new-look roster, but their rivalry with the Phoenix Suns — fresh off the postseason elimination mere months ago — picked up right where it left off.

Dwight Howard used the “Royal We, man” when discussing the Lakers’ lingering grudge towards the Suns — despite the fact that Howard was a member of the Philadelphia 76ers last June.

Lakers-Suns has (once again) evolved into one of the sport’s most heated rivalries. That tension manifested in a litany of ways on Friday, in the Suns’ 125-115 victory over the Lakers (0-2) at Staples Center.

 

Let’s rundown five-ish of the most notable moments from a deeply odd ballgame.

1) The Suns played the refs to perfection

Following a winless preseason, Frank Vogel pointed out various areas where the Lakers could clean up their act, including getting back on defense rather than argue with officials.

Phoenix is good at getting under your skin. The Usual Suspects, Chris Paul and Jae Crowder, are masters at it. When you play this iteration of the Suns, you end up in a showdown with the refs as much as the opposing team, by design. The Lakers succumbed to the spell.

After a hot start, a plethora of frustrating whistles halted the Lakers’ momentum and altered the tempo (there were numerous “Refs You Suck!” chants).

At one point, Vogel had no choice but to spring onto the court and pick up a technical foul.

“I got a tech because, well, the reasons are obvious why I got a tech. I’ll just leave it at that,” he recounted.

Russell Westbrook and LeBron James each picked up three fouls in the first half, including a flagrant-1 on LeBron for allegedly Jalen Rose-ing Crowder, who took a full step forward on a jumper. Anthony Davis, constantly flustered by DeAndre Ayton (until padding his stats in the waning minutes), got into a verbal kerfuffle with Ayton, leading to a double-tech.

In one instance, multiple Lakers looked at the refs in dismay following a Suns bucket, pining for a delay of game call.

“We’ve got to do a better job of not allowing calls that we feel like should have went our way stop us from what our goal is out on the floor,” LeBron said. “There were some very, very difficult calls that we feel like should have went our way, but we allowed that to combat three, four, five possessions in a row. … The emotion side kind of got to us tonight.”

The Lakers were outscored 71-51 over the second and third quarters.

I was in the building, and let me tell you: the vibe was off from the jump. There was a palpable hatred towards the Suns, and a skepticism of the officials and the roster.

“It says we want to be 2-0 and we’re not. That’s all it says,” Vogel said about the team’s lack of composure. “These guys are some of the greatest players to ever play because of their competitive spirit. So when you don’t win, there’s going to be frustration. That’s what makes them great.”

2) Dwight Howard and Anthony Davis’ altercation

The officiating- and losing-induced anger boiled over in the second quarter, when Dwight and AD got into a physical schism on the Lakers bench. They were not debating the NBA Top 75 list.

The disagreement was over pick and roll coverage, and the Lakers tried their best to extinguish any flames. But, it wasn’t nothing.

Howard was benched for the second half (though he was an active cheerleader, and Vogel claimed it was not disciplinary). Howard faced the media minutes after the final buzzer to conduct damage control.

“We squashed it right then and there,” Howard said. “We just had a disagreement about something that was on the floor. We’re both very passionate about winning. … We’re grown men. Things happen. … There is no issue between me and him and that’s my brother.”

“Nobody should try to make his into an issue between me (and AD) or that I’m trying to cause problems for the team because I’m not.”

Vogel gave terse answers when asked about the incident and laid any notion of an intra-locker room beef to rest.

“Dwight and AD had a miscue on coverage, and they talked it out. But, when you’re getting your asked kicked, sometimes those conversations get heated. But those guys love each other. … I’d rather our guys care than not care.”

“Two guys who are very competitive who just want to win games,” Davis assessed. “It’s over with.”

That said, Vogel acknowledged the shoving match was “too much. They know it’s too much. I handled that behind closed doors.”

On the plus side: Westbrook set AN off-ball screen!

More positive notes from the Lakers stars:

  • For one night, Davis solved his free throw issues — 10-of-11 from the stripe.